ArriveScam made millionaires, Liberals downplay cost overruns as 'fair and reasonable'

'What was the total amount of money you and your partner took home from this project?' asked Conservative MP Garnett Genuis. 'It is approximately $2.5 million,' replied Kristian Firth, one of two partners at GC Strategies.

ArriveScam made millionaires, Liberals downplay cost overruns as 'fair and reasonable'
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One ArriveCan contractor told MPs their pandemic application made them millionaires, courtesy of lucrative federal contracts. 

Parliament launched the ArriveCan application in April 2020 to collect the vaccination status of travellers. However, due to technical issues, contractors rolled out 177 versions of the app until October 2022.

The estimated cost of the pandemic tool is approximately $59.5 million, with GC Strategies receiving the lion's share at $19.1 million.

On its website, the firm presents itself as a "provider of IT solutions," with mention of ArriveCan in its repertoire. Yet they outsourced all their IT work to subcontractors, charging between a 15% and 30% commission rate. 

The Auditor General in a February 12 report ArriveCan showed contractors billed $1,090 per day, reported Blacklock’s Reporter. That is nearly double ($675) the costs for equivalent IT positions in the public service.

“GC Strategies is qualified on these procurement methods to provide fixed-price services and solutions to the Government of Canada,” reads their website.

As part of their $19.1 million in contracts for ArriveCan, the firm received 46 total that involved a non-competitive application process, including the pre-emptive contract worth $2.35 million.

According to Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, that puts the project’s cost to taxpayers at $2,604 per hour or $21,000 a day. He asked Kristian Firth, one of two partners at GC Strategies, to justify these costs. 

“What was the total amount of money you and your partner took home from this project?” asked Genuis. “It is approximately $2.5 million,” replied Firth.

That represents a 20% commission on federal contracts under $12 million, he clarified. 

“You and your partner became millionaires through this project?” asked Genuis. “$2.5 million over two years is $1.25 million divided by two people,” replied Firth.

“What makes you so lucky that you got this opportunity?” asked Genuis. Firth did not reply.

According to a briefing note from the Department of Public Works, the federal government considered these charges to be “fair and reasonable” despite multi-million-dollar cost overruns. 

Treasury Board President Anita Anand, then-public works minister, dodged accountability for the ArriveCan cost overruns despite her department overseeing 31 of 46 contracts approved for the application, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

“It did not cross my desk,” she told reporters on February 28.

“Did you know about any of this?” asked a reporter. “The issues rested with officials and did not come to me as Minister,” replied Anand.

“The department is committed to open, fair and transparent procurement processes while obtaining the best possible value for Canadian taxpayers,” said the briefing note Contracts Related To ArriveCan. It is dated December 11, only weeks before separate investigations blasted the ArriveCan contracts as ‘unfair’ and ‘secretive.’

Procurement Ombudsman Alexander Jeglic condemned the practices as “highly unusual,” while Hogan claimed the application’s bookkeeping was “the worst I have seen.” 

Ultimately, Firth defended his company’s work on the application, calling it a “success.”

“I think it did exactly what it was supposed to,” he claimed.

“How do you justify to taxpayers that you as a recruiter were effectively billing them at $2,600 per hour?” asked Genuis. “This is not an hourly job,” replied Firth. “It would have been between 30 and 40 hours every month with the invoicing, with doing timesheets, with doing accounting, with paying our resources.”

Firth told members of the Commons government operations committee that he worked weekends and evenings on occasion.

“So, you think your weekend rate is $5,000 an hour?” asked Genuis. “The government values what myself and my firm and what firms like us do,” replied Firth. “I can’t comment on what my hourly rate is.”

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